Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first public budget proposal calls for all branch libraries to be open on Sundays, including the six branch libraries that serve the West Side.
While suburban libraries are usually open all week, in the Chicago Public Library system, that 7-day schedule only applies to the Harold Washington central library and the three regional libraries, including the recently converted Legler Regional Library, 115 S. Pulaski Rd.
During the Oct. 30 budget hearing, which was held at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., Chicago Public Library Commissioner Andrea Telli explained that the scheduling change will be rolled out gradually, in a way that would ensure that Sunday hours are spread evenly in all parts of the city.
Opening the branch libraries on Sundays will require hiring at least 175 new people, about 60 of them full-time employees. The city plans to fund that by raising the library portion of the city’s property tax levy by $18.4 million.
And CPL is planning to add YouMedia multi-media spaces to three more branches, in addition to the nine branches already slated to receive the spaces next year.
The new budget comes as several West Side libraries are undergoing renovations. Legler library, which was converted into a regional library this summer, closed for major renovations in October. Douglass branch library, at 3353 W. 13th St., is going through its own renovations. The state capital bill allocated funds for the new Galewood branch library, but there are currently no concrete plans on how the funds will be used. The budget proposal makes no reference to that project.
Telli said that in a field that tends to be dominated by white women, the library system wants to make its workforce more diverse.
“I think we’re working very hard to make our workforce as diverse as possible,” Telli said.
“I think we’re bringing a lot more diversity, in terms of African-Americans and Latinos.”
And while she said that they like to promote from within, she noted that many employees start out as pages, and pages tend to come from local communities.
Several aldermen, including Ald. Michael Scott (24th), expressed concerns about whether there would be enough candidates, especially given that, as Telli acknowledged, there is only one college in Chicago area — Dominican University in west suburban River Forest — that offers library science degrees.
Telli explained that the library officials do extensive outreach, attending career days in high schools to recruit pages, as well as doing outreach through state and national library associations.
Scott also wondered how many residents would take advantage of the Sunday hours. Telli responded that it may vary depending on factors such as local population density and the number of schools. But she did explain that, when Woodson Regional Library on the South Side closed for renovations a few years ago, CPL temporarily added Sunday hours to several nearby libraries to provide an alternative.
“We saw an increase over and above of patrons who frequent Woodson,” Telli said. “That gave us a very good data that Sundays [would] be successful.”
When approached after the hearing, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said that he didn’t expect the additional hours have any practical impact on the West Garfield Park portion of his ward, since Legler already has Sunday hours. But he felt that, overall, the new hours would be a good thing.
“I’m assuming that more hours would be better,” he said.